The après-ski scene was alive and well at Mont Ste. Marie on Thursday as hundreds of participants of Ronald McDonald House Skifest 2022 basked in their love of winter and the great outdoors.
It was the perfect day to hit the slopes and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a charity event for the Ronald McDonald House, a local non-profit that allows families to stick close to their sick child while he or she is receiving medical treatment at CHEO. It provides all the comforts of home at its facility on Smyth Road and is a financial life saver for families traveling from out of town for care.
To the casual observer, Skifest is good times, good vibes but, for Ronald McDonald House, it’s also the organization’s single largest fundraiser of the year. It relies heavily on the proceeds to help with its operational costs, CEO Christine Hardy told OBJ.social. The money raised from Skifest over its 30-year history has cumulatively saved RMH families $6 million in out-of-pocket expenses, she pointed out.
Organizers are hoping to net a record amount of $199,200. They chose that very specific number in honour of the year that Skifest was launched: 1992. “We’re on track to exceed it,” said Hardy, who was joined at the event by her board chair, executive sales consultant Danny Baldwin. CIBC Wood Gundy was back as presenting sponsor.
The Skifest online auction remains open until this Monday at 8 p.m. The 52 items include a one-week stay at the Grand Isle Resort in Exuma, The Bahamas; a Toronto Raptors Weekend; an Indy 500 Experience, and the chance for two to race at speeds of up to 150 km/h with Olympic bobsledders Cody Sorsensen and Chris Spring on a track in Whistler. The once-in-a-lifetime experience was donated by sponsor Welch LLP. Sorensen is a director of mergers and acquisitions with Welch Capital Partners.
The fundraiser is organized by a volunteer committee of about 35 people, most of whom are members of the local business community. Hardy couldn’t say enough good things about them.
“They’re exceptional,” she said of their ability to “roll with everything” during the pandemic. They took the event virtual last year before bringing it back to the ski resort for 2022. Organizers pushed the date from January to March, to give time for restrictions to further chill out. “They just found great solutions for everything.”
Ron Armstrong, an investment advisor with CIBC Wood Gundy, returned for his second year to co-chair Skifest with Norton Rose Fulbright litigation and regulatory lawyer Erin Brown. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend.
Armstrong was particularly proud to see the event sell out for its first time ever. There were 60 teams registered and more than 40 sponsors. Close to 300 people attended that day. He took over after 2020's event from ScotiaMcLeod’s Alex Charette, who was one of the skiers to recreate the neon glory days of the ‘90s, as part of Skifest’s milestone anniversary.
The event had the advantage of being held entirely outdoors, which would have been harder for CHEO's Ski for Kids. It's also held at Mont Ste. Marie but includes more indoor, enclosed activities with its large pre-ski dinner and celebration.
Armstrong is quite ensconced in the Mont Ste. Marie community as a long-time competitive ski racing parent. His eldest daughter, Reagan, a first-year student at Queen’s University, brought her mojo to the mountain that day.
“Having children myself, I have a real soft spot for children,” said Armstrong of his support for Ronald McDonald House. “I can’t imagine what parents are going through with their children in the hospital.”
Committee member Mike Pyman knows. His eight-year-old son Cole is healthy now but the little guy spent two weeks at CHEO, being treated for a serious respiratory illness, when he was just a couple of months old.
Pyman remembers Ronald McDonald House as a place where he and his wife could take a break from the hospital setting, whether to gather their thoughts, have a coffee and a baked treat brought in by volunteers, or talk with other families. “It was a huge stress reliever having somewhere to escape for 10 or 20 minutes, to take your mind off things for a bit,” said Pyman, a senior commercial real estate representative with Colliers and VP of national investment services. “There’s nothing more stressful than watching your child fight when they’re that young. Two months old; they’re helpless.”
RMH had to lower its capacity during the pandemic, leading to a waitlist, but it’s managed to remain open and to serve families “the best way we can”, said Hardy. The building has 14 bedrooms, as well as two shared living room spaces with laundry, shower and kitchenette.
After 30 years of Skifest, there’s been some torch passing. Ed Herweyer, vice president of land surveying firm Annis O’Sullivan Vollebekk and board member with the Queensway Carleton Hospital Foundation, was on the committee for many years before recruiting young surveyor Jake Anderson to take over.
Skifest is like a “playdate” for Herweyer; a chance for him to network with clients and enjoy himself. Ottawa caterer Meatings Barbecue was on site, as was The Whalesbone with its fresh oysters. “You play, you ski, you have a beer, you have some food, and then you drive home and life carries on the next day.
“This is winter in Canada,” continued Herweyer as he gestured with his arms to the outdoors that immediately surrounded him. “If you don’t get out and do stuff during the winter in Canada, then what do you do?”